Sacred Time Is What You Make It

John Burroughs wrote, “Time does not become sacred to us until we have lived it, until it has passed over us and taken with it a part of ourselves.” I don’t agree.

Time is a product of creation; cosmologists of all kinds agree. Time is neither inherently sacred nor intrinsically mundane. It is we humans who endow time with meaning and, by our actions, make time sacred.

Many years ago, my family was visiting friends in another state. The wife is a Christian minister. On Saturday afternoon, we walked through the park in their town, enjoying the beautiful weather, watching the younger children in the playground, talking with the older children. “Let’s go get ice cream cones,” my friend said. I smiled. And then she remembered. “Oh, you don’t handle money on Shabbat, do you?” she asked.

Saturday is the Jewish sabbath. It is a day for Jews to commemorate God’s creation of the universe, a weekly reminder of the meaning of life. It is a time we make sacred by ceasing our creative work and our human urge to conquer and produce, and instead enjoying God’s Creation.

To the Jewish mind, however brilliant the ancient Greeks were in other respects, they got one thing wrong: Man is not the measure of all things. God is. The world is God’s, and everything in it. We are creatures of God. For six days we work and produce, but on the seventh we stop to remember who we are in the scheme of the universe.

The Rabbis went so far as to say that the sabbath is a “taste of the world-to-come,” a harbinger of a future era when pain and suffering, war and bloodshed, poverty and hatred will cease to exist. The Rabbis wisely understood that in tasting such a time, one’s appetite for it increases, inspiring the will to spend the next six days working to bring that era closer for everyone.

To make the sabbath wholly different, Jews bracket it with light (kindling candles) and fill it with wonderful activities: prayer, study, family, friends, good food. A pervading sense of joy fills the day. In the same vein, we place restrictions on what is done on the sabbath to retain its holiness. It is a day to avoid the mundane activities of work, business, and school.
Among the restrictions of Shabbat is carrying and spending money. Money is tied in with acquisition and desire, work and competition. For one day each week, we let those things go to taste what it is like for them to no longer exist.

I explained all this to my friend. She sighed. “I need Shabbat in my life,” she said. “Sunday after church has turned into chore time, cramming in all the things we didn’t get done all week. We need sacred time too.”

A year later, in the course of a phone conversation, my friend said, “Did I tell you that we keep Sunday much like you keep Shabbat now?” No more shopping, no more spending money, no more chores. Church, study, family, friends, walks in the park. “It’s peaceful,” she remarked. “I love it.”

Certainly there is no one formula for how to make time sacred, but the need is universal.

Rabbi Scheinerman wrote this article for the Carroll County Times.